We Bleed - Purvi Patel, Abortion and Me
The photo above is of me in 2003. In that year, I had a miscarriage. I did not know that I was pregnant. I had what I thought was an extraordinarily heavy period -- very painful, the blood full of clots. I became dehydrated and dizzy from the blood loss, and considered having my boyfriend (now my husband) bring me to the emergency room. It hurt a lot. I was frightened. But then, it ended, and I slowly returned to normal. I went to my GP, and it was she who surmised that this had been an early miscarriage.
I remember crying a lot. The idea that I had lost a pregnancy before even knowing about it upset me. I had a weird feeling at the time that that would be the only pregnancy I would ever experience, and that indeed turned out to be the case.
The truth is, if I had known I was pregnant, I'm not sure what I would have done. My boyfriend and I were not trying for a baby. We had worked in the same office, and were both forced from our jobs, so we were flat broke and engaged in an arbitration process that was exhausting and ultimately led nowhere. My health was poor. I have a condition called Barrett's Esophagus, a precursor to cancer. It's well under control now, but at the time the stress we were under had inflamed the Barrett's and I was ill, my immune system struggling. We lived in a scruffy upstairs flat with no central heating. In no way were we prepared to be parents.
So I really don't know what choice we would've made had we known. We might have kept the baby. And if we had, our lives would look very different now. Not better, not worse, but different. Or, we might have borrowed money so that I could fly from Ireland to Britain and obtain an abortion. I don't think anyone can say for sure what they will do in such circumstances until they are faced with them. And, as I say, we were never forced to make the choice; it was all over before we knew. I feel quite calm and accepting of this now. I had wanted to be a mother, and I'm not one; but I have done and been a lot of other things I would not have thought possible. I feel lucky, and content.
Why am I writing about this? Because of Purvi Patel. Ms. Patel, of Indiana, was recently sentenced to twenty years in prison having been found guilty of feticide and child neglect. She came into an emergency room bleeding heavily, telling doctors she had had a miscarriage (at about 24 weeks) and, in shock, had put the dead fetus in a dumpster before realizing that she was in need of medical attention. Prosecutors alleged that this was a botched self-abortion and that the baby was born alive. Police found text messages indicating that Ms. Patel considered buying abortion inducing drugs online. However, no such drugs were found in her system nor in her possession, and no proof was found that she had ever purchased them. Despite this, and despite her own claim of a miscarriage, she was found guilty of feticide.
Because the fetus was alive when expelled from Ms. Patel's body, she has also been found guilty of child neglect. There is a logical contradiction here; feticide is defined as killing a fetus in utero. If the baby came out alive, Ms. Patel clearly did not succeed in doing this. If she did succeed, she could not possibly be guilty of neglect, as neglect pertains to children who have been born. This is the first of many clues indicating that this finding was not based on law at all but on an emotional agenda. Purvi Patel is losing twenty years of her life so that her fate might frighten other women into 'behaving'.
If Ms. Patel did want to terminate her pregnancy, why not obtain a legal abortion in a hospital? In my experience, many women don't proceed with hospital terminations because they are afraid; of their parents, of their partner, of the protesters outside the hospital or clinic. My brother used to work as a volunteer to escort women from their cars into a family planning clinic, in order to protect them from the mob at the door.
If the baby was born alive, did what Purvi Patel do amount to neglect? Even the prosecution admitted the fetus died "within seconds" of birth. Let's put the number at ten seconds. Stop reading now and count to ten aloud. What could you do to save a baby's life in that time? Could you dial 911 and get a response? Could you clear the baby's airway and administer mouth to mouth or CPR? Assuming you know how? Now imagine that, as this is happening, you are weak and dizzy, shaking, confused, in pain. What would you do?
This verdict and sentence terrify me. They will make women in Indiana, and beyond, hesitate before seeking medical help when they need it. This will result in both women and unborn children dying, needlessly. As scared as I was when my miscarriage occurred, I can't imagine how frightened I would have been if I'd thought that going to hospital to stop the bleeding might result in my being questioned and suspected of a crime.
I'm writing out my story, and showing you my picture, as a way of saying to you that the women in these cases you read about are real, flesh and blood people. They -- no, we -- make decisions in contexts of fear, privation, and illness as well as of strength, of love. And very often, decisions are taken from our hands by our bodies. The bodies in which we live and house new life are prone to sickness, to failure. They bleed. We bleed.
You can reach Susan at: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook. You can visit her blog here: Susan Millar DuMars Is Lucky